RFTA: Trail rule enforcement up to county sheriffs | PostIndependent.com

RFTA: Trail rule enforcement up to county sheriffs

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is pondering a dog ban and winter closure for a new midvalley trail, but officials admit they might be unable to enforce the wildlife-friendly rules.RFTA is considering the restrictions between Rock Bottom Ranch and Catherine Bridge to reduce negative impacts on deer, elk and other wildlife. Jonathon Lowsky, a wildlife biologist the agency hired to prepare a management plan, suggested them.RFTA’s board of directors discussed Lowsky’s report Thursday but delayed a vote until October so its staff can collect public input. Trail construction will proceed as planned, but RFTA plans to finalize its management plan before the completion of the new segment in October.Two key points in Lowsky’s study were that dogs greatly expand a trail’s sphere of disruption when they roam off leash, and that a closure from Nov. 15 to March 15 is necessary to avoid interfering with deer and elk that need all their calories to survive winter.The board seemed inclined to adopt Lowsky’s recommendations. “Everyone wants to mitigate the impacts,” said RFTA board Chairwoman Dorothea Farris, a Pitkin County commissioner.But RFTA officials were also honest about their limited ability to enforce possible restrictions.”We are not an enforcement agency. Don’t come to us,” said RFTA board member Arnie Mordkin, a Snowmass Village town councilman. He said enforcement is clearly the responsibility of other agencies. The trail is split between the jurisdiction of the Eagle County and Garfield County sheriffs’ offices.Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, also a RFTA board member, concurred that the sheriffs’ offices would be the appropriate agencies to address trespassing during closures and dog bans.RFTA attorney Renee Black said intergovernmental agreements between the three governments could split the expense of enforcement.Farris said the regulations will work only with substantial self-enforcement of trail users and from the help of neighboring homeowners.RFTA’s position didn’t build confidence among people who have concerns about the trail. Jim Duke, who lives across the Roaring Fork River from the trail, said it sounded to him like RFTA was seeking a way to shirk its responsibility to manage the trail in an environmentally responsible way.Duke wants the trail constructed on the north side of the Roaring Fork River, along old Highway 82, so the old railroad corridor south of the river can be preserved for wildlife.RFTA’s board members emphatically said they will not abandon the plan to build a paved trail from Hooks Lane, in the Emma area, to Catherine Bridge. The 4.5-mile trail segment will cost $1.2 million. The addition of the link will complete a trail on the old railroad right of way from Aspen to Carbondale. Next year, RFTA plans to start building a trail from Glenwood Springs toward Carbondale. A valleywide trail could be completed by 2010.RFTA’s board was barraged with speakers aligned in three primary camps at Thursday’s meeting. One camp opposed the construction of the trail from Hook’s Lane to Catherine Bridge on environmental grounds. Another camp supported the trail as a popular amenity wanted by most citizens. And a third camp of equestrians asked that only a soft-surface trail be constructed so they could use it without the threat of speeding bikes.Duke asked if RFTA is truly concerned about wildlife issues or hell-bent on building the trail.Jacque Whitsitt, chairwoman of the Mid-Valley Trails Committee, said she views herself in two camps as an environmentalist and a trail proponent. She said Duke and his allies raised good points that RFTA needs to address, but that the trail should be built.RFTA made recent campaign pledges to complete the valleywide trail by 2010. That promise helped win an election that increased sales tax revenues, which help fund the agency, she said.”People want [the trail], they love it, they use it wherever it’s been built,” Whitsitt said.Anne Rickenbaugh, a member of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of directors, said wildlife considerations are important, but shouldn’t dictate RFTA’s direction.”First and foremost, your job is to move people up and down the valley,” she said.The RFTA board dismissed the request for a soft surface and instructed their staff to proceed with plans to pave. The wildlife mitigation steps – and their enforcement – remain open to debate.

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